NOTE: this is the original of a piece I reworked/reposted here.
2016 marked the unimaginable. The start of the end — or the end — of the short film platform, Vine. In October of that same year, Twitter announced that starting the following January, Vine would put in place a permanent lock on users, preventing them from posting videos. Twitter’s decision to move away from the micro-video world ultimately led to the rise of a new platform, the (in)famous TikTok-then known as Musical.ly. With this new platform came the rise of viral challenges.
TikTok and Vine weren’t identical services. Vine videos were limited to six seconds, a fraction of the sixty seconds clips supported by TikTok. More than that, TikTok created the seemingly impossible — virtual duets. In the age of COVID-19, this doesn’t seem like much. Back in 2017, however, it was revolutionary. Duet videos opened up an entirely new and untapped realm of social media interaction. TikTok launched this unique opportunity by enlisting Bruno Mars and his fans to market the feature for them. The debut of this feature was simple:
Encourage fans to duet with Mars and post the video on TikTok. Share it across social media channels with the hashtag #dancewithBruno (and TikTok’s watermark).
TikTok: It Was Written In The Stars
Prior to TikTok duets, viral challenges were in a galaxy eons away. On TikTok, people who duet merge others’ content with their own — it’s a blending of the individual and community. Previously, challenges like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Cinnamon Challenge consisted of users posting their challenge attempt and either tagging who inspired them or including the challenge’s title in the hashtag. While these challenges showed us that interaction via virtual means was possible, they didn’t fully meet the mark. Although connection existed on social media, they left out an important part of our social need for community.
Each video, although connected by the unifying trend, was divided by necessity. Some challengers used YouTube Doubler or similar tools to superimpose the original video next to their own; many chose not to, however. As a result, such video responses had an isolating air about them. TikTok capitalized on the authenticity and impracticality of the shared experience. Their implementation of the duet feature not only streamlined how to find and respond to a challenge but also displayed who the user was responding to.
Aside from finding a demand and providing a solution, TikTok tapped into our need for recognition, direct interaction, and community. On TikTok, when someone responds to a challenge, they can choose whether or not to duet and who to duet with. With this feature, they can share the screen with another person, whether their counterpart knows them or not. This intentional decision of who the user responds to is a key factor in TikTok’s success. Since the release of this feature, the app has experienced 100% growth or 96% year-over-year , surpassing long-standing titans like Snapchat and Twitter in monthly users.
Additionally, the ability to duet has created a unique capacity for community building, meaningful interactions, and support. In recent years, activists, survivors, and users alike have created their own trends on TikTok. Those who use this feature have been able to destigmatize mental health issues, raise awareness on women’s safety, and troll the Trump campaign. While this has given space and opportunity to those inclined to share their stories and advice, the duet feature has also motivated others to join in. The option of having others uplifting their words has been a confidence booster for those too anxious to post themselves solo.
The majority of TikToks are lighthearted challenges; users jokingly sharing their Celebrity Look Alike or learning the Renegade choreography. Other trends are less playful. Recently, trending threads on TikTok tackle darker subjects like the ‘Abusive Parents Check’ or Psych Ward Stories. These aren’t challenges in the traditional sense, but they stimulate others to join in on the conversation. As they do so, they often try to find the humor in these situations with ~quirky~ edits or dark humor.
It’s hard to gauge whether these recent large scale and diverse digital conversations would have happened without TikTok, or more specifically without this feature. However, it is safe to say that this feature enabled users to feel and create more authentic and interactive connections. This development directly initiated the possibility for a digitized community; one that encourages authentic bonds.
Originally published at https://curiosityshots.com on October 8, 2020.